Monday, August 24, 2009

Private Ryan's Mother

Greg bumped into someone today who works near him who lost his four year old son a few months before we lost our daughter. He shared with me how awkward the meeting was. He said he thought they would be able to talk to one another, sharing such an experience, but neither man apparently felt comfortable, and after a few awkward exchanges, it was clear that they only wanted to get away from one another. I explained to him that this didn't surprise me really. No one can know what it's like to be that man. Just as no one can understand what Greg and I feel, not completely. Our pain is unique because our experience with our child is unique. But, ever since that conversation a few hours ago now, I've been pondering which is the more painful loss generally. Losing a child so young or to watch them grow up and then lose them. Was that other man resentful of Greg because at least he got to see her high school graduation and take pictures of her in a prom dress (neither of which we did, incidentally - she was too sick to attend prom and graduated from an alternate program because she had been in and out of treatment so often that she could not attend regular high school classes the last two years). Or did Greg think his pain was more intense because of all the time, effort, hope and despair over all the years that the other man didn't have to experience, only to have those memories dashed. I don't know really. I do think the guilt, which is bad for us, must be crushing for someone who loses a child so young because your instinct is protect them from harm, even though sometimes you just can't.

That got me thinking about the scene in Saving Private Ryan that I have always found to be the most poignant. Much like the most dramatic scene in Brokeback Mountain, there is no dialogue, or in this case, direct dialogue. Body language says it all. It's the scene where Mrs. Ryan receives the news of her sons and collapses on the porch. For me, that scene alone always drives me to tears. Long before Kelsey was even sick, I couldn't get past that scene without crying, and not just tearing up for a second, but real shoulder shaking tears. I have always put myself in her place and flashed to all the nights she sat up when her sons had chicken pox or the flu. All the stories she read to them, the pajamas she buttoned up, the scrapes and cuts she cleaned and bandaged, the tears dried afterwards, all to raise them to adulthood only to have their lives cut short half way around the world. For me, the first time I saw the film, I remember thinking bitterly, "That's not what she raised them for. To send them off to die." And this from a woman who believes sincerely that World War II was a necessary war for the Allies to wage. I remember when the movie first came out I read a review that was critical of that scene, calling it unnecessary and a distraction. I was angry at that reviewer, whom I do recall was male, and assumed he didn't have children. Spielberg has kids. He gets it. He knew that was a critical scene to illustrate why it was important for the mission to happen, and why the decision was made to send other men into peril to find the last Ryan brother. That loss, that horrible loss for that poor mother who loved her sons and always expected to have them bury her, not the other way around, was so poignantly illustrated by her sinking wordlessly to the ground. Even if your child dies for the most noble of causes, it's still a hole ripped totally and completely from your heart. With two wars being waged by the United States now, there are a lot of bleeding, wounded hearts out there. But, I don't think that makes the loss of a little boy any less tragic. That father has a large, gaping hole in his heart too.

1 comment:

  1. I have thought about which one is worse as well. In April, my 5 year old (yes, 5) cousin lost her battle with something called Dravet's Syndrome (a form of epilepsy). When my uncle and his wife lost her, it was tragic, but they knew she was ill. At the time of her passing, she was developmentally a 2 year old. My opinion is that it would be more difficult to lose a child later in their life. I mean, a child is a child no matter how you slice it, but it seems like many years of memories (good or bad) would be tougher to deal with than just a handful. Either way, the thought of losing a child is sickening. I think of you and Greg every day.